Not every entrepreneur merges their career with their hobby, but that’s precisely the case for Baruch alumna Renisa Satrijo (MBA ’03). And her hobby just so happens to be sweeter than most.
In 2012 Satrijo—a California native who was working full time at a pharmaceutical company in the Bay Area—went on maternity leave and, during that time, decided to try something she’d never done before: make ice cream.
“I was experimenting with it as a hobby, and a cousin of mine really loves strawberry ice cream,” she recalls. “So, I decided to keep making strawberry ice cream—and I must have made about 15 or 16 different iterations of that flavor—until I got it just right.”
The results were better than Satrijo ever could have imagined.
“Ice cream is a very honest food,” she explains. “Its quality directly reflects the type of ingredients you use. For instance, with the strawberry flavor, I started out using strawberry jam in a jar, then moved on to frozen strawberries, and finally began using organic berries grown only an hour away. The quality and flavor improved each time.”
Satrijo made more and more of her delicious premium ice cream and eventually began selling it at local farmers’ markets; she was so successful that the markets continued to invite her back. Her reputation grew, and soon she had won prestigious honors like the Silver Medal at the Wisconsin Dairy Awards. That’s when she started thinking more seriously about her hobby.
Between the long hours and travel requirements of her day job, to understandably increasing family commitments, Satrijo felt that she needed to focus more of her attention on her ice cream. By February 2015, she courageously decided to leave her pharmaceutical job and focus entirely on her blossoming ice cream company, which she named “Sugar Mama Desserts.”
“The business grew completely from word of mouth,” she notes. “Soon enough, organizations like Google and YouTube began requesting us to cater their events. The whole process has been a very rewarding and fun experience.”
As her fan base has expanded, so too have her flavors, many of which were inspired by Satrijo’s Indonesian heritage. She takes pride in the fresh, unique ingredients that she uses to produce such an eclectic mix of ice cream.
“Over time, customers began making requests,” she says. “The Bay Area is filled with such diverse people that we’ve created some truly original flavors, like fresh durian, a fruit considered stinky, yet very addictive in many Asian countries. Durian is actually banned in some hotels in Singapore! To me it tastes sort of like sweet French onion soup, and as customers can attest, it makes for some great-tasting ice cream.”
Other unique flavors include avocado, black sesame, fig pecan pie, and maple bacon, in addition to mainstays like vanilla bean, coffee, and dark chocolate.
Starting your own business from the ground up can be a daunting task, but Satrijo was up for the challenge in part thanks to the MBA in Healthcare Administration degree she earned from Baruch College. In particular she points to the diversity of her classmates as having had a major impact on her.
“The assortment of different cultures and perspectives in the classroom is an important part of the Zicklin experience,” she says. “In the business world, you’ll encounter lots of people and coworkers who think differently from you and who carry their own unique opinions. It’s important to know how to interact with so many varying perspectives, and that’s what you gain from Baruch: you learn how their opinions can inform your own.”
And the fact that Baruch is located in the heart of New York City—one of the best “foodie” cities in the world—certainly had an effect on Satrijo.
“We don’t have the same type of dessert places in California as in New York City,” she says. “Dessert in NYC is an experience unto itself, and I really enjoyed spending my time at Serendipity near Central Park or the amazing dessert shops in Forest Hills.”
Satrijo’s advice to other budding entrepreneurs is simple: be courageous and don’t shy away from rolling up your sleeves and working hard.
“There are so many behind-the-scenes aspects of my company that are not glamorous at all,” she says. “To make our peach nectarine sorbet, for example, customers don’t realize that I’m shucking 80 fruits to get just one batch. If you want your product to be good, you need to put in the effort.”
As for the future, Satrijo is excited to watch her business grow. She hopes to continue being the Valley’s best corporate caterer of gourmet ice cream and is looking to further expand her ties to local farmers to make her product as fresh, and as delicious, as possible.
And while she’s busy shucking fruit and dreaming up outrageous new flavors, Satrijo makes one thing very clear: courage, hard work, and a Baruch degree are the perfect ingredients for success.
—Gregory M. Leporati